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Town Council votes in secret to retain Christmas in parade name

The La Jolla Town Council opted for tradition over unity April 14 in voting 11-9 to retain Christmas in the name of the community’s annual holiday parade.

The parade will remain as La Jolla Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival.

The vote was taken in a secret ballot, with town Councilman Jack Holzman noting councilmembers had been subjected to “more than casual criticism” about their viewpoints on the issue, so there was a need to conduct the vote by written ballot to avoid any “unpleasantries.”

In January 2005, in a letter co-signed by prominent La Jollans Jack McGrory, Murray Galinson, retired Navy Admiral Ray Peet and Liz Yamada, the La Jolla Town Council was asked to consider removing Christmas from the community parade title. On Jan. 13, the Town Council expressed a willingness to consider changing the parade’s name, but also voiced concern that doing so might adversely affect sponsorship at a time when organizers are facing spiraling costs from the city and elsewhere.

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Proponents of omitting the religious reference from the parade name pointed out Balboa Park did so with its annual holiday event several years ago, from Christmas on the Prado to December Nights. That event has not lost popularity, nor have sponsors withdrawn their financial support, according to David Kinney, head of the Balboa Park Association.

Town Councilman Ray Weiss objected to a secret vote on the parade name change issue.

“There’s a very basic ethical principle underlying this,” he said. “We’re a representative body. The U.S. Senate never has a written ballot where votes of representatives are disguised. I’m not sure it’s a wise idea here, either. People should speak with the courage of their convictions. We should not do this in a way that prevents that kind of discussion.”

It was then pointed out that the Town Council bylaws only call for written ballots during group elections. A successful vote was taken by the council to conduct the parade name change vote by written ballot.

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There was robust discussion by the Town Council over changing the parade’s name to make it more inclusive.

David Little felt compelled to vote with the majority on this issue, saying that only those people with children or grandchildren really care much one way or another about the parade.

“The overwhelming majority of people want to keep the name,” Little said. “In my thinking, this is kind of a minor issue. If the vote goes the other way, and you change the name to the La Jolla generic parade, that’s fine with me. I can live with that.”

On the other hand, Little said, citizens who want to change the parade name would likely continue pushing for it if the vote did not go their way.

“That may be reason enough to change the name,” he said.

Speaking against retaining Christmas in the parade’s name, Weiss said there are larger principles at stake.

“The important thing is not the minority view,” he said, “but that the rights of the minority be upheld in the community. Certainly, people who are not Christian are in the minority. We certainly have had embarrassing things in our history where opinions of the majority have subjugated the minority.”

Weiss stressed the importance of compromise. “If we win on one side or the other, La Jolla will lose either way. It’s incumbent upon us to think about this thing in a way that will actually help La Jolla ... We as leaders should take serious the issue of finding a name that recognizes the traditions that people hold about the parade, and at the same time, recognize there are people in the minority in our community who take offense at it being associated with Christians.”

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Councilman Patrick Ahern said that La Jolla’s annual holiday parade was created more than 50 years ago to be a unifying element in the community, not a divisive one.

“It’s incumbent upon trustees to represent the minority and their inalienable rights,” Ahern said, suggesting it might be best to consider alternative names.

“That’s an option for us to consider, rather than voting today.”

Councilman Holzman said he believes Christmas should not be stricken from the parade’s name because it is a secular term.

“It’s a national holiday in a secular world,” he said.

Following the Town Council meeting, Keith Jay Wahl, a La Jolla cosmetic surgeon who supports a name change, said he was disappointed by the result of the vote.

“We lost a great leader, the pope, last week,” said Wahl, “and he was great because he reached out to everybody. With the spirit of that kind of leadership and humanity, I would have thought this community would have risen to that level and included everybody. It’s a big tent. Everybody should be let inside. A lot of people feel excluded, and the name is really the most insignificant part of the whole thing. It’s getting everybody involved in the spirit of the season.”